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Demand Sharing: a Real Sharing Economy for the Academy

Published onMar 10, 2021
Demand Sharing: a Real Sharing Economy for the Academy

In a famous letter of 1813, Thomas Jefferson compared the spread of ideas to the way people light one candle from another:
“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lites his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

Photo Credit: Hartwig HDK on Flickr, CC By-ND 2.0

Demand sharing means you can ask for everything you need to do your science… with one proviso…

We’ve all heard about the “sharing economy,” where we can gain new streams of income or convenience by simply sharing excess capacity (that spare room, the car ride, an electric scooter, etc.). And we’ve been told since childhood that sharing things we no longer need can help those with greater needs. Most of us feel we have a good idea about what it means to “share.” But then most of us are also mistaken, and here’s why.

Anthropologists who look at the ethnographies (and who do their own) of hunter-gatherer groups, and who sometimes also look at modern attempts to create sharing economies (e.g., Uber, Airbnb, etc.), tell us several things about sharing that most of us may find new and different from what we expected (Widlok 2016; Suzman 2018; Accessed May 6, 2019). These ideas about sharing, synthesized from the study of human groups that have been successfully building their own lives for tens of thousands of years, say to us that we have “sharing” almost completely wrong.

For example:

  • Real sharing is not charity. Charity is an artifact of the marketplace (and of personal wealth) and the logics of artificial scarcity.

  • Sharing something you own that you are not using (like a spare room or space in your car) in exchange for cash is just another form of market transaction.

  • Giving away things that you don’t need or no longer want is not a good example of sharing. This is an edge case.

Demand Sharing: share what is most important to you. Get what you need in return

In this Handbook, we use the phrase “demand sharing” to designate a culturally advanced form of sharing, a type of cultural behavior that has been in widespread use of the majority of the human population for tens of thousands of years, and only recently eclipsed by marketplace logics in the past two to three hundred years. “Millions of years of evolution have designed us to live and think as community members. Within a mere two centuries we have become alienated individuals. Nothing testifies better to the awesome power of culture” (Harari 2014). Additional information about demand sharing is available elsewhere in the Handbook.

Society uses demand sharing to fund its needs

A rather good (perhaps unexpected) example of demand sharing in modern society is having your representative government demand a tax that everybody pays, which then, for example, supports your state’s public colleges and universities (and pays your salary). That’s right; taxation is how a society demands of itself those resources it needs to prosper (Widlok 2016).

Another example is sharing within a household, where family members can grab a snack from the refrigerator without much bother or need to justify or account for their choices. In the case of the academy, the “refrigerator” is the rapidly expanding corpus of digital research objects, and the family is fellow scientists who stock this with the outputs of their work, and who can then dive in and grab what they need for their own research. Note: this is a never-empty refrigerator, as these digital objects are not used up by their taking. Note again: they are anti-rivalrous: they gain value when they are shared. This is something every open scientist needs to remember.

“[L]earning is taken as much as given” (Godin 2019; Accessed May 6, 2019).

Learning is demand sharing for knowing

Teaching and learning already require demand sharing. As an open scientist you’ve probably taught in a variety of classroom situations. Your students asked questions to extend their learning. Your best students (bless them) outright demanded to be taught. They marched into libraries (buildings, or on-line) and demanded the resources they need. They came to your office hours and demanded answers to their quandaries.

This means that nearly every scientist is well versed on how to participate in a demand-sharing economy. First, the state demands that its citizens fund the university, supporting teachers and learning. Then the student shows up and demands to be taught. We all did this as students. It’s not obscure, it’s how we learn.

Imagine a professor giving a lecture who stops in the middle and says, “This next part is really interesting; if you want to learn it, go to my app on your phone and deposit $10.” This should sound bizarre to you: if it doesn’t, then the neo-liberal university is your real home. In part it sounds strange because the professor’s salary is already paid, hopefully through taxes. But mainly, it sounds wrong, as professors (who were once students) are completely happy for their students to learn. These learning moments in the classroom are seen as socially important and personally rewarding. When a student asks you a question, you do your best to help them learn something new. Note: making your students buy a textbook you authored, for a price that might equal the rent they pay in a month, should also sound strange.

In a hunter-gatherer culture, such as that of the Ju/’hoansi, when a child comes to your fire and demands a bit of meat from your catch, you give it to them. Like food at a hunter-gatherer fire, information in a university is something that can be demanded. Demand sharing in education is a type of cultural economy where the norms and rules—the times and places, the manner of asking, the desire to teach and the value of learning—are well-known, without being written down. Students know they cannot demand the answers to a quiz in advance. What is sometimes forgotten is the need for and role of kindness in these interactions.

Got a PhD? You know how to demand what you need

This means that you already know how to do demand sharing. Let’s look how demand sharing differs with what we just described as poor examples of “sharing.”

  • You don’t give your classes as a form of charity (even though you may consider your own salary inadequate). You are a professional. Teaching is important. Your students have legitimate demands on your knowledge and your kindness. Passing on knowledge is why you teach.

  • You also don’t teach your students content that you find worthless to you or loan them books that you are no longer satisfied with, unless these books are instructive in other ways. You share what is really important to your professional life: the best knowledge you’ve acquired.

  • You expect students (at least, grad students) to demand from you what they need to learn and grow as scientists.

Demand sharing means sharing what is valuable and important to your research

This is the proviso we mentioned above. The same demand-sharing logic that collects the taxes that pay your salary, and enables your students to learn, also enables the academy to manage its knowledge resources for the benefit of all scientists, and the planet through the internet. Until today, a scientist might legitimately point out the huge amount of process-friction that would overly complicate sharing her data or workflows. A lot of the work of open-science advocates in the last two decades has been focused on reducing that friction through web-based platforms and services. Much of the remaining friction is cultural; linked back to institutional practices that do not reward or actively punish open resource sharing.

In an open-science, demand-sharing academic culture, sharing as much of your research as early as possible is a virtue strong enough to be a norm. Share what matters most to you: your methods, your findings (even null fundings), and your data. Share your ideas openly too, not simply those ideas that you have no interest in pursuing and every interest in having someone else pursue. Share your knowing by listening and adding to the conversation.

Open science requires generosity with a simple promise: each scientist will get more than they give. That’s the bargain the academy makes with you when you join and actively participate in the open-science academic society; a bargain that today gets broken all too often. It is the promise of the trove of knowledge that the academy maintains in libraries and repositories. This bargain is bolstered by the network effects of academy organizations. Demand sharing optimizes this bargain across academic networks and clubs (Redaction 2016; Accessed June 1, 2019).

Sharing imbeds your work into the community of science as a gift, a form of offering that also signals your membership. Sharing includes reviewing and acknowledging the work of your peers (See also: Perils of peer review). The open-science community creates its internal authority through relentless self-critique.

This authority works through a special soft of reciprocity and a level field of mutual status. As Polanyi (1962) noted, “[O]nce the novice has reached the grade of an independent scientist, there is no longer any superior above him. His submission to scientific opinion is entailed now in his joining a chain of mutual appreciations, within which he is called upon to bear his equal share of responsibility for the authority to which he submits.” This reciprocal authority of “mutual appreciations”, based on openly shared and critiqued knowledge is the basis for all applications of authority and leadership in an open-science academy.

The offerings you provide to the “republic of science” (Polanyi 1962) lend you the cultural capital to demand the resources you need for your work from the abundance of open-access resources, and the knowing of others in your field. These, in turn, offer up their research for your use. As Hyde (2009) notes, the “constant and long-term exchanges between many people may have no ultimate ‘economic’ benefit, but through them society emerges where there was none before”; your contributions help create the academy society.

Amplified by the internet’s global reach, these exchanges expand and accelerate the process of science. You share the most important ideas you have, even at the risk of being scooped, because getting the most important work done now—whether you do this or someone else does (and attributes you with the idea)—moves science forward. You share your research results, all of them, knowing you will be critiqued by your peers, as you will also critique theirs.

One more advantage of demand sharing is the occasion where you find a piece of information outside your close associations and intellectual domain, and you demand (ask) to gain more knowledge so that you can include this in your work. Demand sharing activates weak ties (Granovetter 1983), bridging between knowledge domains to spark innovation. “From the perspective of innovation, it’s even more important that the information arriving from one of those weak ties is coming from a different context” (Johnson 2011). Of course, you will also, on occasion, be asked to give out knowledge around your research, opening up weak ties with new potential collaborators.

“The self-image of humans who are embedded in sharing relations is not one of homo faber who creates his or her world out of nothing and without anyone else. Rather it is an image of what I have called homo sumens … who takes into use what is available through the company of others and that can be claimed from them” (Widlok 2016).

Academic clubs: collectives for research collaboration

Demand sharing is a dense cultural practice, with its own behavioral expectations. When you share, you signal your desire to be included in the community. What you must learn, then, are the guidelines for demanding resources. “[T]he problem is not one of deciding what to give to whom but rather what to demand of whom. The onus is on the potential receiver to make his or her claim acceptable and the rules for appropriateness are not about acceptable giving but acceptable demanding” (Widlok, ibid; emphasis added).

The cultural shift to demand sharing will create a social basis for new science collectives, for “clubs” that share internally as though the club were a single, social organism. These formations are not entirely new. R&D Think-tanks have been funded for this purpose, and the NSF in the US spends a billion dollars a year funding academic workshops to assemble temporary collectives to solve common problems. “Club goods” are non-rivalrous inside the club, but not necessarily without shared costs (Hartley, et al. 2019). Science club goods have the additional property of being anti-rivalrous. Thomas and Brown (2011) describe these clubs as collectives, “Collectives are made up of people who generally share values and beliefs about the world and their place in it, who value participation over belonging, and who engage in a set of shared practices. Thus collectives are plural and multiple. They also both  form and disappear regularly around different ideas, events, or moments.” Collectives enable collaboration across the internet, inform team-building and open up the situations for shared knowing.

The cultural practices of demand sharing will be emergent in the academy as open resources—including access to and discoverability of collaborators—become increasingly available in the next decade. This Handbook will help you to kickstart your own collectives, and forge demand-sharing cultural norms that suit your situation; see also Building new collectives.

“That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property” Thomas Jefferson 1813 letter, quoted in (Boyle 2008).

Together with “fierce equality,” demand sharing as a cultural norm can help realize an actual sharing economy for the academy, separated from the arbitrary scarcity of the neo-liberal marketplace; a special type of gift economy grounded in mutual appreciation, rather than reciprocity. The demand sharing economy helps scientists grow networks that are far larger than those available through simple reciprocity (Grant 2013), and also far more emotionally satisfying (no need to keep track of each transaction). The particular practices of demand sharing will need to grow inside thousands of institutions across the globe.

A goal of this Handbook is to give you the resources you need to build demand-sharing logics inside your academy homes. You can be a demand-sharing change agent by sharing your research objects and your research questions and problems; by listening more and adding your knowledge when asked. Demand answers from others; learn together. It’s science, not alchemy. You are not alone.

Bibliography: Open Scientist Handbook References


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